Widgets Magazine


Why I’m not voting for Barack Obama

On Nov. 4, 2008, I stood with my father and brother, hand over hand in a small booth and pulled the lever to cast our vote for Barack Hussein Obama. There we were, three black men, exercising a privilege that our ancestors had fought and died for, to cast a vote for the man who would become the first black president of the United States. I spent Nov. 5 walking around a smiling fool, giddy and hopeful for a future where the sky was the limit because we’d broken one of the harshest glass ceilings in our country’s history.

Four years later, my smile is decidedly gone — as is a lot of my hope.

As someone whose political consciousness has grown at a radical rate this quarter, I largely denounce the economic and political ideology that this “great nation” is built upon and currently employs. I think the corporate-sponsored two-party system cheats Americans out of policies and political representation that would lead to a fairer society for everyone — but especially for the poor and brown folk.

And tomorrow — on Nov. 6, when I cast a presidential vote for the first time on my own — I will not be voting for Barack Obama.

The future safety and success of our nation depends on building an accord with our global family and on addressing internal strife — primarily along lines of class inequality and racism.

Both candidates and their policies ultimately fail us on these lines, but especially Barack Obama, whose intelligence, eloquence and insight on racial injustice do not yield us a fundamentally different outcome than his primary challenger, whom many might say lacks all three characteristics.

“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” President Obama said in March 2011, discussing intervention in Libya with the rest of the democratic world. “The United States of America is different. Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.”

Not only has Obama as president of the United States ignored atrocities in other countries as people cried for freedom, but he has also either perpetrated or been silently complicit in some of the larger atrocities to face our generation.

As researchers from Stanford and NYU Law showed this fall, the policy of unmanned drone attacks that President Obama inherited from his predecessor terrorize Pakistani civilians on a daily basis.

Not only do the drones (the legality of which is still unclear) terrorize people on whom the United States has not declared war, they have also caused an unacceptable number of civilian deaths: Between June 2004 and September 2012, 474 to 881 of Pakistanis killed by drone attacks were civilians; 176 were children.

For a Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s spent so long lambasting the unconstitutional extensions of executive power that his predecessor utilized, Obama seems to be following in many of his predecessor’s footsteps.

And on “terror,” Obama seems to have his hands tied trying to fight bands of terrorism in some areas while letting the source of much Islamic fundamentalism go quietly unchecked in others.

I’m talking about Saudi Arabia, one of (if not the) biggest ally we have in the Middle East, which is also one of the most fundamentalist Islamic states — notably more so than Iran.

Saudi’s dominant religion is inextricably fundamentalist. Osama bin Laden was born, educated and radicalized in Saudi. Fifteen out of the 19 of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Yet, because of Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance to American interests, we allow them to propagate the same human rights violations that we criticize Iran for — even though Saudi Arabia commits them to worse degrees.

If American interests were truly about combating terrorism and/or injustice, we’d have to hold this ally accountable. Because we don’t, all sorts of questions are raised about the motivations behind where and how this country decides to fight terrorism and where its interests actually lie.

Harkening back to the president’s comments on being friends of people longing to be free, we must also consider the largely silent tale of the 2011 Bahraini protests — which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies played an important role in suppressing.

Tens of thousands of Bahrainis first demanded the right to public protests and that their rule by a Sunni minority monarchy be replaced with a constitutional democracy.

Political dissidents, protesting footballers and even the doctors who treated those injured, tortured or killed by state-sponsored bullets, beatings and tear gas were imprisoned.

The Bahraini repression of its people’s secular revolution was not an isolated incident. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — a political and economic union of six Gulf states — provided security forces to quash the uprising. Arab revolutions were okay in North Africa, but not anywhere near the oil fields that provide so much political immunity to the Gulf region and wealth to the world. The United States Navy maintains its “Fifth Fleet” in Bahrain — which oversees naval operations in the Arab Peninsula and East Africa — at the permission of the ruling Bahraini government.

Our president’s words are laughable when played back in this context.

Obama’s words are further laughable when we consider the fact that the president unquestioningly continues to support one of the most well-known human rights and international law violations of our time — the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine. Obama continues the American tradition of giving more annual foreign aid to Israel than it does to Latin America and Africa combined (roughly $3 billion), and the United States continues to be one of two forces that block Palestine’s adoption into the United Nations as a member state.

Finally, we turn domestically to the fact that Barack Obama has mentioned topics of race and racism the least of any president since 1961.

His silence on a very real and pressing issue is especially infuriating as the incarceration of black and Latino men becomes the biggest civil rights issue of our era, creating, as Michelle Alexander named it, a “new Jim Crow” caste system of unrecognized, unsupportable, unemployable parolees. (Please, please, please read this September feature in The Atlantic on “The Fear of a Black President” for a much longer treatment of these topics.)

I have felt tempted to vote for Obama because I could tell those who come later that “I voted for the first black president of the United States,” albeit for his re-election. But racial ties do not smooth over the larger moral objections I have to his infuriatingly contradictory policies, nor should they.

Earlier this quarter, I read a Facebook status of a friend who said he would not vote because both presidential candidates and their parties disappointed him.

I shared part of this sentiment, but I also felt a moral obligation to vote. I registered to vote in 2008 at the gravesite of Vernon Dahmer Sr. in Hattiesburg, Miss. Dahmer, a local NAACP organizer, died trying to defend his family from a mob attack after attempting to register blacks in his community to vote. Surrounded by his surviving family members and reading his epitaph, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” I filled out a symbolic California voter’s registration form.

With this legacy of death for the right to vote in my cultural history, I cannot simply renege on my obligation. And with so many important propositions on the ballot in California, my obligation is even stronger.

Those of us who look up to Obama as symbolizing a newfound horizon for black boys and girls must recognize that our struggle is only just beginning: The United States has become less racially tolerant since Obama took office, possibly since the president has been so silent on issues of race. We also must recognize that Obama’s race and his historical status do not exempt him from criticism. Our standards for judgment should be no less high because he’s “the first.”

That Obama has such intelligence, eloquence and charm and still espouses the same problematically conflicting foreign policies and exercises the same extrajudicial atrocities as his predecessors — all with that charming smile — makes his actions even worse.

But don’t worry, y’all — I’m not voting for Romney, either.

Cast your vote with Kristian at kbailey ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Kristian Davis Bailey

Kristian Davis Bailey is a junior studying Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. A full time journalist/writer and occasional student, he's served as an Opinion section editor, News writer and desk editor for The Daily, is a community liaison for Stanford STATIC, the campus' progressive blog and journal, and maintains his own website, 'With a K.' He's interested in how the press perpetuates systems of oppression and seeks to use journalism as a tool for dismantling such systems.
  • Samra

    brilliant writing, Kristian, as always.

  • ok……….

    way to advertise your own article on the diaspora. honestly it’s laughable how people pretend to be on the moral high ground and say, well, I won’t be voting for Obama because he didn’t fulfill each and every one of my desires for his presidency because such and such is morally wrong and he didn’t do anything or enough about it. do you actually think he could have done everything and championed every moral cause perfectly, that there aren’t other underlying issues at hand, tenuous relationships both domestically and internationally at play while navigating the responsibilities of being President? I’m glad you’re not voting for Romney, but not voting Obama to ‘prove a point’ could be the gravest error you could be committing in this election, especially if you’re living in a swing state.

  • Jay Cutler

    Terrific article. I’m an alum at Stanford and it’s rare to hear outspoken voices on the unsexy but real issues. Thank you.

  • Brian Good

    It is no error to vote your conscience–particularly in a “safe state” such as California where the outcome is assured. Obamney and Rombama have both demonstrated their contempt for international law and for our constitutional liberties, and it’s essential that honest citizens demonstrate their independence from the lemming parties. If any of the third party candidates achieve 5% of the popular vote they will qualify for substantial federal campaign funding in the next election–and then we can have a serious campaign dialog instead of a phony fight about trivia where the important issues are already a done deal in favor of the 1%.

  • J Byrne

    It’s a bit of a strawman to conclude that Kristian is not voting for Obama because Obama hasn’t “championed every moral cause perfectly” or because “he didn’t fulfill each and every desire”. You raise a valid point but, if I may summarize Kristian, where do we draw the line at in terms of our fealty to Obama and the Democratic Party if the assassination of American citizens and the killing of innocent people through “drone strikes” aren’t sufficient to give one pause in endorsing the man.

    If you believe that such (well-documented) criticisms of his human rights violations and extrajudicial assassination programs are frivolous because Obama can’t do everything perfectly, then I ask that what WOULD Obama have to do in order to give you pause in voting for him?

  • Mr. Hanky

    Completely agree. It is absolutely your moral responsibility to choose the “lesser of two evils” if that is what it comes down to. Let’s be practical here.

  • word count

    Your article was really long. I thought they had word limits.

  • Rory

    Thank you Kristian for having the intellectual courage to write this article.

  • Jacob’s Ladder

    He votes in NYC, but still not a contentious state.

  • #icant

    Do not use the president – and this election – as a scapegoat for the United States’ oppressive narrative. This country’s supremacy has been built off of the backs of poor people, people of color and indigenous people around the globe – the US has stopped at almost nothing to gain supremacy at the expense of others, “otherizing” those worlds, using assimilation and American exceptionalism as a weapon of attack.

    While i may share frustration with foreign policy, remember that this has been happening for years – to choose today to voice your frustrations with him marginalizes that history, and decontextualizes the problem, imposing the centuries-long frustration into the four-year space of his presidency.

  • E

    I myself am angry that Obama didn’t feed Bin Laden to a pack of ill-tempered wild boars. The Daily should therefore give me a full page to whine about my disillusionment given that my views aren’t held by the majority.

  • thp

    I don’t know what’s worse, the author’s blatant racism or childish political view.
    Hopefully Obama gets reelected.

  • Brian Good

    So you’re arguing that the long course of American history is so corrupt, that there is no point in trying to hold any individual accountable for his own actions. That is a very cynical view.

  • Brian Good

    Call me old fashioned, but I don’t see what’s wrong with the option of capturing bin Laden alive so he could be interrogated and put on trial.

  • M

    Racism? How so and towards who?

  • Sarahi

    You’re a brave person for expressing your personal opinions on a campus that actually is very intolerant of “unpopular” opinions. Excellent expose of your personal views with good evidence to back it up. That, is indisputable.

  • Well I agree these are some good points but we are not really going to have time to fight against American Imperialism if we are crushed under a wave of anti-minority and female legislation that Conservatives would love to dump on us.

  • @Sarahi

    This is almost completely untrue. Stanford is very accepting of other and diverse opinions, more so than other schools and certainly more so than the average population. Where is this even coming from?

  • thp

    Read carefully, It’s all over the place. Kristian clearly states that “racial ties” compelled him to vote Obama first time around.

  • Thanks for your comment ok.

    My biggest point is not that there’s a list of moral DOs that a president should check off; it’s that there’s a huge list of DO NOTs that this president has especially accumulated. This list crosses a moral threshold beyond that which I am comfortable supporting.

    To restate: killing innocent children, granting a large degree of (financial and military) credibility to justify human rights violations, and supporting repressive regimes that foment the very groups with which we are currently engaged in a ‘democracy versus terrorism’ battle all fall past this threshold.

    There’s a difference between carefully navigating tenuous international relationships and aggravating exploiting them.

    And I don’t think there’s much worse Romney could do on these DO NOTs than Obama. Our current president is the “best” that our political systems can produce in terms of intelligence and diplomatic charm. Even with the “best of the best”, our two party system inevitably fails American democracy–and the world.

    Reducing the monopolistic stronghold the dominant two-party system holds on our political discourse by allowing third party candidates to contribute their ideas on a national level would not ‘fix’ said systems, but would be a much-needed improvement.

  • Hey J Byrne, please see my comment to “ok…..” above.
    Look forward to hearing your responses.

  • Hey #icant – please see my comment to ‘ok….’ above. The Atlantic piece I linked to goes into more depth on the racial/political dynamics Obama faces. One of the bigger arguments in that feature is that Obama may have less of a political license to talk about race because to do so would shatter the very tenuous power he holds – since it’s built upon an ideal of Obama as an anti-black man (in terms of being the opposite of stereotypes about black men and their alleged threat to the power of white rulers).

    We might also assume the same applies for how Obama addresses the ‘otherization’ and oppression of poor, brown and indigenous people around the world.

    I do not scapegoat the president for this country’s longstanding history of oppression, but I think his actions (as described above) go so far as to contribute to this history of oppression in unimaginable ways. His actions are normalizing the new form that this oppression is taking.

  • Anne

    wonderful piece! as a mother of a Stanford alum it’s great to hear progressive voices coming out of the university. and for the record, everyone in our family has voted progressive third party candidates since 2000. The Dems will not change until we tell them that they won’t get our vote if they don’t represent us-and they don’t!

  • Brian Good

    So then isn’t he repenting of his earlier racism now? I oppose Obama’s policies. I would oppose them whether he was black, white, yellow, brown, orange, or green. Racism has nothing to do with my position.

  • Come on….

    Who the fuck cares about foreign policy. Blame Hillary, vote Obama. And this country is NOT more racist than in 2008 – people are just more sensitive to it.

    These are stupid ass reasons to not vote at all in the presidential election.

  • Sean

    Hey Kristian,

    First off, this is an incredibly well written
    article…thanks for sharing. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to voice my
    political opinions and concerns as eloquently as you seem to be able
    As your piece explains, it’s really no longer a secret that
    the American government is prepared to sacrifice much (or at least
    contradict itself) in terms of human rights and international law… if
    it means protecting this nation’s energy security. And while I believe
    these practices are disgustingly hypocritical and hurtful, it’s much
    easier to criticize them than it is to offer solutions. So I’m curious,
    how might you propose to deal with the atrocities in Saudi Dubai, given
    our dependence on their oil? Is it really practical for a political
    candidate to suggest placing trade embargoes on such a country (wouldn’t
    that be political suicide?). Maybe we should wait to see what Obama
    addresses these next four years (now that he is no longer concerned with
    getting reelected)?

  • ok……….

    kdb i would be the first to champion these issues with you in an article about these issues, but not about this presidential election. i believe people should vote as they believe, but hopefully that they are informed and do not raise such issues as the sole argument within an article entitled ‘why i’m not voting for obama’… this article, as another commenter has posted, is very long, but to have a title like that will require imo an immensely longer, thorough justification than just the broaching of a couple important but, in the grander scheme, limited topics. basically: i agree with you, in many ways i agree that Obama and essentially any choice in a politician is the lesser of two evils, but if you’re in a swing state and you’re not voting for Obama, it is quite a mistake you’re making. in some ways Obama as an actor of our political system has failed, but to let the ridiculous slate of Romney/Ryan possibly prevail because one cannot swallow the realities of the detriments and shortcomings of American politics and therefore abstaining from the political process in this way… is no way to make any improvement.

  • sigh

    It would be nice if you actively campaigned to change our voting system so that we could vote for third parties without effectively throwing your vote away. As it is now, not voting for Obama only increases the odds of Romney winning. It’s likely Romney would continue if not worsen several of the foreign policy outrages you describe. Not only that, he would roll back women’s rights, work to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, and pursue fiscal policies that would lead us down the same dreadful path as Europe. So progressives, instead of having time to start to care about countries other than the US, would be bogged down trying to save our own basic rights as Americans. All in the name of some selfish political grandstanding on election day?

    No. Let’s fight for fairer elections – repeal the electoral system, introduce a run-off, whatever. But not at the eleventh hour when so much is at stake.

  • aguy

    Stanford is accepting of other and diverse opinions…to a point…and that point is never too far from the political zeitgeist on this campus anyway

  • leg

    Then when are we going to have the time? The political landscape is only shifting further towards those anti-minority and female positions.

    Suppose we follow American “activists” by indefinitely postponing a reckoning with American imperialism. Let the Republican bogeyman cow us into voting for the ‘lesser evil’ and insulating the Democrats from accountability. By taking a defensive posture, we will assure that their centrist positions continue to be the left pole of any political debate, further pushing the electorate to the right. Decades from now, we will continue fighting conservative encroachments on the rights fought for by our predecessors – rights that recede further and further into the past. And people like you will still be arguing that we don’t have the time to fight back yet.

  • Hey sigh,

    Thanks for your comment – I respectfully disagree, however.

    We are not going to get fairer elections if we’re silent at the 11th hour.

    To share part of my discussion of these topics on a Stanford activist listserv:

    My thoughts are the following: it seems that we’re stuck in this two-party system partially because many of us get stuck in this ‘express my political views or support the party/candidate that most closely (But still unsatisfactorily) represents my views’ conundrum. If enough third party votes swayed California’s elections (where I am voting) from blue to red, I don’t think that would be the end of the world: 1) it demonstrates to some degree that people share our views and dissatisfaction enough to matter in an election (which grants more legitimacy to inclusion in the next election); and 2) it’s possible that such a shift to the right would create the conditions necessary for an effective, left-leaning coalition of voters and policymakers.

    Think about how huge of an affect the Tea Party (a third party) had on Republican discourse (and therefore the entire system) post 2010. Imagine what that would such a force would look like from a left-leaning perspective. That is only possible when a group is vocal and visible enough to mark that, although they represent a minority of political interests, they can

    To quote Dr. King’s ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech, “When the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.”

    I don’t think uncertainty or even the very potential reality of a counterproductive administration should always tend towards playing things safe. For me, this election has been my best shot to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with the status quo to our nation and the world.

    I’m not advocating that everyone should vote for a third party candidate – and doing so is not my intention implicitly, even if it is a side effect of being read in such a public venue.

    I’d be curious to hear more voices on either sides of this argument.

  • thp

    I’m not reading any repentment, I am reading that other issues eg “larger moral objections” simply have taken more importance and that racial ties shouldn’t be able to smooth them over.. (wow, how principled)

  • Terrifying

    It is honestly terrifying reading these comments. As a student, I’m ashamed of some of my classmates. This campus is, on the whole, incredibly intolerant of anything other than staunch liberalism. Deny this all you want, but I speak from first-hand experience. I have been personally attacked for expressing views that were not consistent with the liberal mindset that pervades Stanford and essentially all of California. I have no problem with disagreement or criticism, but please stop vilifying those whose views differ from yours. Suppressing what can be constructive debate and discussion is not only close-minded, but just plain stupid, and it is astounding the number of people that have no qualms about doing so. Furthermore, you cannot win a debate unless you know the argument the other side is making. If for no other reason than to crown yourself the winner, it might be worthwhile to take the time to consider other opinions rather than immediately blowing them off.

    Kristian, I have never met you, but I too commend you for your bravery. It is unfortunate that some of our classmates have failed to appreciate this piece.

  • Kate

    Wonderful. It’s refreshing to read an original, well thought out opinion. I applaud you for standing up for what you believe in.

  • Hey Kaz, this article is definitely worth a read. In the aggregate, most policies of either mainstream party are harmful to women of color and minorities generally. Women’s rights do not exist in a vacuum – this author argues – high incarceration of black/brown men, increased profiling of Muslim people, and the splitting of families through deportation of migrants all have impacts on minorities and women. And in terms of women’s rights on a global scale, our drone policies in the Middle East are not doing much for the cause.

    This is why I’d argue that the larger political system requires alternative voices to call out/agitate/legislate for different policies.


  • Guest

    Also, check this from the editor of the Black Agenda Report, news/analysis from the black Left:

    “If Democrats also believe in wars of aggression and bail outs and subservience to finance capital, Republicans are only left with abortion and gay marriage as issues to differentiate themselves.”

    “It is a lack of progressive activism which has precipitated this crisis. In the absence of strong and coordinated opposition to Democratic Party duplicity, progressives meekly go along with whatever bad deals are presented to them and then recoil in fear every four years when they are told that the barbarians are at the gate. Republicans only help make the case for this complicity with openly racist and misogynistic policies.”


  • Clive Boulton

    Good perspective and argued, but not voting is too easy an out, there is moral obligation to vote. “If you don’t vote, you don’t count,”

  • Taina

    Best article I have ever come across by far !!!! I can’t even begin to articulate my feelings because I am overwhelmed by them. kristian I share your opinions on our current president. I am constantly ridiculed about my feelings for President Obama, because I am a minority, and am automatically expected to support him. I do not. Nor do i support Romney. I guess i am hoping for something more, something that I am afraid will never again exist. A candidate who will take a stand against the powers that be, to actually do what is expected, and required of him. i think it is obvious that there are higher powers in control here, and I can’t help but to feel that our country has been highjacked.